LOS ANGELES, January 16, 2015 — What makes the National Football League better than other professional sports is the format for the playoffs. Forget the best four out of seven games. The NFL playoffs are one and done. There are shocking upsets every year. The Divisionals is when many of these upsets occur. The conference title games usually feature great teams, and the wildcard round exempts the top teams.
Some analysts say the Broncos and Patriots are guaranteed to face off in the AFC Title Game. They say that the Packers and Seahawks are locks for the NFC Title Game. All of these teams were involved in playoff games they were guaranteed to win or lose. In some cases this was in very recent years. In the NFL, the unexpected is the norm. That is why we love pro football.
The top ten Divisional Playoff upsets of all time can be considered.
The 2010 Seahawks at 7-9 were the only losing team to ever make the playoffs, until this year. Although they shocked the 12-4 defending champion Saints, this missed the list since the Seahawks were at home.
The 2011 Giants were only 9-7 when they shocked the 15-1 defending champion Packers. This missed the list because the Giants were a very confident bunch who defeated the Packers during their 2007 title run.
The 1983 Seahawks were only 9-7 when they stunned the 12-4 Miami Dolphins. This missed the list because it was Dan Marino’s rookie season. Experience won out.
With that, here are the top ten Divisional upsets in NFL history.
- 1985 — Patriots 27, Raiders 20 —The 12-4 Raiders were every bit as good as their Super Bowl team from two years earlier. The 11-5 Patriots benefitted from Los Angeles kick returner Sammy Seale booting a return into the winning New England touchdown. This would rank higher, except Jim Plunkett was out injured and backup Marc Wilson was playing injured. Also, New England went on the road a week earlier and beat the Jets and went on the road again a week later and shocked the Dolphins in the AFC Title Game.
9. 1993 — Chiefs 28, Oilers 20 — The 12-4 Oilers were the most dysfunctional team in NFL history, with Buddy Ryan punching Kevin Gilbride. However, they had won 11 straight games. The 11-5 Chiefs were good, but the Oilers led after three quarters and collapsed. This would rank higher except Chiefs quarterback Joe Montana was the best.
8. 2007 — Giants 21, Cowboys 17 — The 13-3 Cowboys had beaten the 9-7 Giants twice in the regular season, but in Dallas the Giants won when Tony Romo was intercepted in the end zone on the final play. This would rank higher except the Giants went on to shock the world by beating Brett Favre and the Packers and then Tom Brady and the Patriots. Also, Romo did not win his first playoff game until seven years later.
7. 2010 — Jets 28, Patriots 21 — Several weeks earlier the 14-2 Patriots carpet-bombed the 11-5 Jets, 45-3, in front of a nighttime national audience. The Jets dominated this playoff game that was not as close as the score. Rex Ryan got revenge over the hated Bill Bellichick-Tom Brady tandem. As one Patriots player said on the sideline, “They talked it. They walked it.”
6.) 1982 — Jets 17, Raiders 14 — The strike shortened season saw the 6-3 Jets go on the road and blast the Bengals. Yet the 8-1 Raiders, who would win it all one year later, were heavy favorites. The New York Sack Exchange dominated the line of scrimmage and forced several turnovers. The Raiders had two chances in the final minutes, when Jim Plunkett was intercepted twice by Lance Mel.
5. 2007 — Chargers 28, Colts 24 — The 11-5 Chargers had no business beating the 14-2 Colts, but for some reason Peyton Manning and the Colts always had bad games against the Chargers, who could not beat anybody else. Philip Rivers was out, and backup Billy Volek led the win. Had the Colts won, they would have had a rematch with the 16-0 Patriots in the greatest AFC Title Game to never be played. In a sick irony, Manning and Brady are on a collision course again if Manning does not again lose to an inferior playoff team.
4. 2008 — Cardinals 33, Panthers 13 — The 9-7 Cardinals did have Kurt Warner, but they went 2-4 to close the regular season. Despite stunning the 11-5 Falcons in the Wildcard, they were expected to lose big to 12-4 Carolina. That Panthers team with Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith looked like a Super Bowl team. Despite leading at halftime, the Panthers collapsed in the second half as Warner and Larry Fitzgerald were the ones putting the yards and points on the board. Delhomme was never the same after this game.
3. 1987 — Vikings 36, 49ers 24 — This was Joe Montana’s one awful playoff meltdown. One year after San Francisco was belted 49-3 by the Giants, this time the 13-2 49ers were heavy favorites to beat the 8-7 Vikings. Although Minnesota upset the 12-3 Saints one week earlier, the win was dismissed because neither New Orleans nor Jim Mora had ever won a playoff game. In this game, Montana threw four interceptions and was benched by Bill Walsh for Steve Young. The 49ers would rebound to win the Super Bowl the next two years.
2. 1996 — Jaguars 30, Broncos 27 — The Jaguars were 4-7 before winning five straight games. They needed a 30-yard missed field goal on the final play of the final game by ace Morton Anderson to make the playoffs at 9-7. Even when they went and beat Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills 30-27, nobody gave them a chance against a 13-3 Broncos team that was expected to finally get John Elway his ring. Denver jumped to a 12-0 lead and then fell asleep as the Jaguars scored 23 unanswered points to lead 23-12 and then 30-20. Elway said it was the one time he cried after a game. The next year, Elway would finally hoist the trophy after blasting Jacksonville along the way. The year after that, Denver won it all again and Elway retired on top.
1. 1995 — Colts 10, Chiefs 7 — The 9-7 Colts were 4-7 before running the table and dispatching San Diego in the Wildcard. They had a tough quarterback in Jim Harbaugh, but were expected to be throttled by a 13-3 Chiefs team. Yes, Marty Schottenheimer suffered playoff losses, but this was one the Chiefs simply gave away. Steve Bono threw three interceptions in the second half and was replaced by Rich Gannon. Lin Elliot would miss three field goals, including the game-tying attempt late. A great quote for the ages came when announcer Paul Maguire said, “I hate kickers. They should be paid $50 a game.” He also said, “Well it doesn’t matter because Lin Elliot’s not going to be a Chief next year.” Elliot never kicked in the NFL again and Bono was gone from the team two years later.